20 March 2012

Researchers mull tobacco's restorative effects on self control

by Will Parker

A new study that indicates smoking has a restorative effect on an individual's self-control resources has researchers pondering other self-control restoration strategies as a way to reduce smokers' dependence on tobacco. It is the first research to evaluate the effects of smoking on self-control and suggests that the desire to restore depleted self-control may contribute to smokers' addiction to tobacco.

The Moffitt Cancer Center researchers set out to explore the notion that self-control is a limited resource that acts like a muscle - expending self-control on a task has the short-term effect of depleting the resource, making it more difficult to engage in another task that requires self-control.

Their study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, exposed a test group and a control group - totaling 132 nicotine dependent smokers - to an emotional video depicting environmental damage. One group in the study expressed their natural emotional reactions (no depletion of self-control) while the second group suppressed their responses (self-control depletion). Half of the participants in each group were then allowed to smoke a cigarette. All participants were then asked to complete a frustrating task that required self-control.

"Our goal was to study whether tobacco smoking affects an individual's self-control resources," said study leader Bryan W. Heckman. "We hypothesized that participants who underwent a self-control depletion task would demonstrate less persistence on behavioral tasks requiring self-control as compared to those with self-control intact, when neither group was allowed to smoke. However, we also hypothesized that we would not find this performance decrement among participants who were permitted to smoke."

The findings supported the investigators' hypotheses - smoking did have a restorative effect on an individual's depleted self-control resources.

Heckman's work suggests that smokers wanting to quit may benefit from learning alternative self-control restoration strategies as a way to reduce their dependence on tobacco. The authors concluded that smoking cessation treatments would benefit by further research aimed at identifying precisely how smoking restores self-control, as well as identifying additional alternative strategies for restoring self-control.

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Source: Moffitt Cancer Center